Syrian forces, Hizbollah battle rebels in Qalamoun
BEIRUT // Syrian regime forces and Lebanon’s Shiite movement Hizbollah on Thursday seized control of several hilltops in a mountainous area that straddles the Syria-Lebanon border, a monitor said.
Hizbollah’s Al Manar television said that dozens of rebels, including those from Al Qaeda’s Syrian affiliate Jabhat Al Nusra, had been killed.
The Al Qaeda-linked rebels, encamped in the Qalamoun mountains, have been attacking the Syrian army and fighters from Hizbollah, a staunch ally of Syrian president Bashar Al Assad, which has sent hundreds to fight alongside his forces.
A Syrian source on the ground said Syrian troops and their allies had advanced around Assal Al Ward, a small regime-controlled village near the Lebanese border, and that “dozens of terrorists” were killed.
“Regime forces and Hizbollah seized control of a number of hilltops overlooking Assal Al Ward, after intense aerial shelling and attacks with Iranian-made weapons,” the head of UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights Rami Abdel Rahman said.
He stressed that the battles “were being led by Hizbollah, with the participation of the Syrian army, notably the Republican Guard”.
On Tuesday, Hizbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah vowed to oust rebels from the Qalamoun region saying the situation “needs radical treatment” but did not say when the assault would begin.
In April 2014, regime forces backed by Hezbollah took control of most of Qalamun, but hundreds of rebel fighters remain entrenched in the mountainous region.
Mr Abdel Rahman said that “what is taking place is a battle with slow advances, not a big military operation”.
A spokesman for Al Nusra said that the Al Qaeda affiliate had not withdrawn from any areas in Qalamoun, and dismissed reports about advances by Hizbollah as false.
But he confirmed that battles were taking place around Assal Al Ward.
Earlier this week, rebels in Qalamoun announced the creation of a local branch of the Jaysh Al Fateh, a rebel coalition including Al Nusra, which seized Idlib city in Syria’s northwest on March 28.
* Agence France-Presse, Reuters